Protecting pig herds: bovine tuberculosis (bTB) from badgers

Learn more about the habitat of badgers, and minimise the risk of bTB with practical biosecurity methods. 

Diet and habitat

  • Badgers are members of the weasel family and are omnivores. They eat worms and slugs when in plentiful supply, as well as small invertebrates, hedgehogs, rabbits and other small mammals. They will also eat carrion, birds’ eggs, berries and fruits, maize, oats, barley, and anything else that is available when food is scarce.
  • Badgers can live five to eight years and mate at almost any time of the year. They will use the same setts for several years, with many large setts having been in existence for hundreds of years.
  • Badgers have a sense of smell over 800-times more sensitive than our own. They will use well-worn runs emanating from the sett and mark their territory boundary using established latrines and dung pits.

Detecting infection

There is no evidence to suggest that sick animals are ejected from the main sett or family group, but there is some evidence that infected badgers have a larger home range. This may lead them to occupy single-hole setts away from the main sett, often located close to an easy food source.

It's important to note that:
  • It is not possible to tell if a badger is infected with TB by sight
  • If there are setts being used close to your outdoor paddocks, buildings and feed stores, be mindful of this. Badgers will also live under sheds, in straw stacks and in barns – check these areas regularly for obvious signs of badger access
  • Many cattle farms site water and feed troughs and salt licks over 4 feet (120 cm) off the ground to prevent badgers accessing them. As this is impossible for pig producers, it is essential to implement good biosecurity

Practical biosecurity measures

  • Access to feed and stored grain should be denied wherever possible. Badgers can easily climb 3 feet (91 cm), especially if the surfaces provide grip (such as concrete)
  • If doors and gateways are more than 3 inches (8 cm) off the ground, a badger can get under them. If the floor is soft, a badger can scrape under a gate, so modification with plastic strips or electric fencing is required. Ensure all grain stores have doors that shut flush together
  • Keep up good housekeeping around the feed-bin areas and consider feed-dust-extraction cyclones. Ensure the flow of ad-lib feeders is correct and that nothing is broken
  • Keep well-maintained fox-fence-type electric fencing around the most vulnerable areas of your outdoor unit, i.e. the farrowing paddocks, especially if you have ad-lib feeding. Research conducted by the Food and Environment Research Agency (FERA) showed that electric fence wires should be placed at 10 cm, 15 cm, 20 cm and 30 cm intervals to be effective
  • Spray weeds regularly and walk paddocks weekly to check for signs of disturbance or digging
  • Other vulnerable areas include paddocks situated next to wooded areas, as these could contain badger setts
  • Other fencing that has greatly reduced mammalian predators in farrowing paddocks is the use of netting positioned 1 foot from the main electric fence
  • Keeping badger populations away from farrowing areas is critical. If fencing is not an option, try not to straw up the farrowing arcs too long before the sows move in, as the warm, dry bedding is inviting to badgers. In addition, keep ad-lib feeders well maintained and don’t allow waste to sit in empty paddocks
  • If you share any livestock vehicles with cattle producers, make sure they are washed and disinfected prior to use on the pig unit
  • The Protection of Badgers Act 1992 does not grant any rights, it creates various criminal offences – it is an offence to take, kill, injure or commit cruelty to badgers or interfere with badger setts
  • UV light inactivates bTB, but this is not a foolproof method of eliminating it